He reaches across the table and grabs my hand. Holding it firmly in his. “We’ll figure it out together.”
“I love you—” I say, then stop abruptly when I realize the words that just spilled out of my mouth. I was thinking them, but hadn’t meant to say them out loud. They just came out! Shit. I just told him I love him. I wasn’t going to be the first to say it. I’m never the first to say it. The few serious boyfriends I’ve had have always been first. Even then I was reluctant to say it because it was never like this, whatever this is between me and Max. This is the first time I’ve truly felt love for someone who wasn’t Kia or my family.
He looks as shocked as I feel, and part of me wishes I could take the words back and forget it ever happened. But it’s too late now. Another part of me is glad I said them because it’s how I feel and I’m getting sick of bottling up my emotions. I know from experience that they don’t stay bottled for long and when they do decide to come out, it’s at the worst times.
“You don’t have to say anything—” I start to say, but he cuts me off.
“I love you too,” he says.
I study his face, looking for truth. I don’t see any twitches or signs that he’s uncomfortable or lying.
“Don’t say it if you don’t mean it,” I tell him. “You don’t have to say it just because I did. That word is important to me.”
“I love you,” he says again.
My chin quivers. I don’t know why I want to cry right now, but I do. I refuse to do it, though. He’s had to deal with enough of my tears. “Good,” I say.
He nods and kisses the top of my hand. “Now that that’s settled, do you want dessert?”
“I would love some.”
“You would love some?” With exaggerated movements, he puts his hand to his chest, his eyes wide and dramatic. “Are you saying that your feelings for me are the same as your feelings for dessert?”
I throw a beer nut at him because he’s acting ridiculous and he’s just so stinking cute when he’s like that. I love that his personality runs the gamut. He can be goofy and funny, intense and seductive, loving and wonderful. I never feel like we’re in a box and I have to act a certain way and be a certain way with him all the time.
“Yes,” I say.
He bows his head. “I’m honored.”
I laugh. “You should be because I fucking love dessert.”
He chuckles, but his laughter soon dies down and he sighs. “I have to be honest with you about something.”
My stomach drops. Those are scary words.
“Okay …” I say.
I wait for a bomb to drop, for him to tell me he has a girlfriend, or a boyfriend, or a kid. It figures that some kind of secret will come out and burst my bubble just when I’m about to start putting my life back together after losing Kia.
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner, but I saw you at the bar those nights when you were drunk with your friend and laughing and looking at me through the window of my shop. I knew exactly who you were when you came in.”
I stare at him. “Are you serious?”
He nods. “I thought you were cute, and when I saw you at my shop, I thought you came in to ask me on a date but were just too nervous to say anything. That’s why I was messing with you about the fairy and butterfly tattoos, and kind of being a dick. I guess that was my terrible way of flirting.”
I gasp, mocking outrage. “You thought I was cute? Cute is for puppies and newborns.”
He smiles and comes over to my side of the table, sitting next to me. He kisses my check and neck, and finally, my lips. “You’re more than cute. You’re sexy as hell and I love everything about you.”
I can’t help but wonder what Kia would’ve thought about all of this. Here was the man on her bucket list and now he’s in love with me, and I’m in love with him. This doesn’t feel like her bucket list anymore. I guess it never did.
When Max and I get back home, all I want to do is go home and veg out for the next week. But there’s no time to sleep off the jet lag. My vacation time is running out and Max will also have to go back to work soon. Real life is crashing down on us, but there’s still one last task to do and one last envelope to open.